Managing pests and diseases

Beekeepers must control or eradicate pests and diseases and manage weak hives

For all beekeepers

afb-ropiness-testIf you detect a pest or disease in any of your hives, it is important to take the appropriate steps to eradicate it. This must be done as soon as possible to prevent robber bees from spreading the pest or disease to other hives in your apiary or to the hive of other beekeepers. Weak hives are far more likely to be robbed and so maintaining good hive strength will reduce the risk of spreading diseases and pests.

In Australia, the most significant bee disease already present is American foulbrood (AFB). A variety of methods can be used to treat a hive infected with AFB, including irradiation, hot wax dipping and/or burning of infected material. More details are provided below the section on Code requirements.

The reason these treatments are required is because the spores produced by the bacterium that causes American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae) will remain on the equipment and can reinfect bees with which they come in contact. Antibiotics should not be used to attempt to control American foulbrood either: even though the bacteria may be killed by the treatment, the spores are not affected and will continue to infect the colony.

4.1 A beekeeper must take all reasonable actions required to minimise the likelihood that a pest or disease detected in their hive will either weaken the hive or be transferred to another hive.
4.2 Any weak hive must be managed to ensure that it does not become attractive to robber bees.
4.3 Any dead hive or any hive with insufficient bees to prevent robbing by other bees must be immediately removed from the apiary and/or managed in a way that prevents robbing and renders the hive and any honey that may leak from the hive impervious to robber bees.
4.4 If a beekeeper identifies American foulbrood in a hive they must, after the field bees have returned to the hive, immediately isolate the affected hive and any contaminated appliances and take steps to prevent the risk of spread of disease from the hive. This includes:

(a) destruction of all bees in the hive, and
(b) rendering and maintaining the hive and appliances bee-proof until they are cleaned, sterilised or destroyed as appropriate. In this context ‘bee-proof’ means eliminating bee access to the affected appliances, hive and hive contents including honey that may leak from the hive.

4.5 If it is not reasonable to immediately implement the steps in 4.4 and the hive is not in danger of being robbed, they must be completed within seven (7) days.
4.6 A beekeeper must eliminate American foulbrood from an infected hive by sterilisation or destruction as soon as is reasonable but, in any case, before sale or reuse of the hive.
4.7 If a beekeeper elects to sterilise an infected hive it must be either:

(a) subjected to gamma irradiation at a minimum radiation dose of 10 kiloGray, or
(b) dipped for a minimum of 10 minutes in hot wax held at a minimum temperature of 150oC. Complete records of the process including observed temperatures of the wax at the start and end of each dipping must be maintained, or
(c) treated by another method approved by the relevant state or territory authority.

4.8 Frames, combs and hive mats and any plastic parts must not be dipped in hot wax but must be destroyed by burning or irradiated as appropriate.
4.9 If American foulbrood cannot be eliminated through sterilisation, the hive must be destroyed by either:

(a) burning and burial of the remnants so that they are covered by at least 30 cm of soil, or
(b) any other means approved by the relevant state or territory authority.

4.10 A beekeeper is not entitled to any compensation for the value of hives, appliances or equipment infected with American foulbrood and subsequently destroyed to achieve compliance with this Code unless an industry funded compensation scheme is in place in their state or territory.
4.11 Appliances likely to be contaminated with American foulbrood must be scrubbed or steam cleaned to remove all traces of honey, beeswax and propolis prior to rinsing in clean water.
4.12 A beekeeper must not use any antibiotic for the purposes of controlling American foulbrood in hives.

The Tasmanian Foulbrood Best Management Practice Guideline takes precedence over this section for apiaries located in Tasmania.

More information

Killing diseased hives (eg for AFB infected hives)

Unfortunately there will be instances where killing diseased hives will be the only sure way to limit the spread of a pest or disease. This is particularly true for AFB infections. The procedure for safely killing hives is as follows:

  1. The hive should be killed in the late afternoon or early evening when there are no longer field bees flying
  2. Seal all hive entrances and any holes or cracks through which bees could escape
  3. Lift the lid, pour a cup of petrol over the frames and close. Ensure the smoker is kept well clear of the petrol
  4. The colony should die within a few minutes. If there are still live bees after 10 minutes, pour another cup of petrol over the hive and close for another 10 minutes

Note that if you use petrol to kill hives, the frames cannot be reused as contact with the petrol contaminates them. If you want to reuse the frames you must remove them before killing the hive and have them irradiated before using in another colony. Any combs that are left in the hive during the killing should be burnt along with dead bees and other material still in the hive. Hive boxes and supers can be reused provided they are irradiated, otherwise they should be burnt as well.

An alternative method of killing the bees is to shake them into a tub of soapy water, but it is likely that some bees will escape and potentially infect other hives. After the hive has been killed, the left over material is processed by burning (see below).

Note that combs can be removed prior to killing for honey extraction and can later be irradiated and reused.

How to prepare bee gear for irradiation

Gamma irradiation at a dose rate of 10 kiloGrays is 100% effective at sterilising AFB-infected material. Irradiated combs and boxes are readily accepted by healthy bees. Follow the steps below to prepare hive gear for irradiation:

  1. Extract all honey and depopulate the hive
  2. Make sure hive material is free of insects and spiders
  3. Securely tape or strap the material together. Each lot of material should weigh no more than 25kg
  4. Place the material in plastic bags or shrink-wrap
  5. Make sure all loads are clearly labelled with your name/business name and contact details
  6. Contact the irradiation plant to arrange delivery and pick up

Where to get gear irradiated

Steritech Pty Ltd offers irradiation services for bee equipment in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Steritech’s Melbourne facility also processes beekeeping equipment from South Australia and Western Australia, whereas beekeepers in the ACT are encouraged to use Steritech’s Sydney service.

How to prepare material for hot wax dipping

If you have access to a hot wax dipping vat you may choose to wax dip infected material as a means of sterilisation. Prepare material for hot wax dipping as follows:

  1. Remove and burn all bees, brood, honey and comb
  2. Store the boxes, lids and bottom boards in a bee-proof area
  3. Heat wax to 160°C
  4. Fully immerse contaminated equipment in the hot wax for a minimum of 10 minutes

Due to the high temperature and volatile nature of molten wax, wax dipping can be a hazardous activity. Make sure to wear appropriate safety equipment including heavy duty industrial rubber gloves, a full face mask, work boots and long-sleeved shirt and trousers.

burning-hiveHow to burn and bury AFB material

Before burning, ensure that you have the relevant fire permits and that there is no fire ban in place when you burn AFB infected material.

  1. Dig a hole at least 30cm deep and clear combustible material away from the area of the pit
  2. Place the diseased material in the pit and burn it
  3. Once material is thoroughly burnt, cover it with soil

Download the Code

Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice

The Code of Practice is also available in Greek, Arabic, Italian and Turkish